Sexual assault affects not only the victim, but also family and friends. Family members and friends often struggle to help their loved one deal with the effects of the assault because of their own struggle with what has happened.
When someone you care about has been sexually assaulted it can be difficult to know what to do or say. You may have feelings of fear, anger, sadness and disbelief. The most important thing that you can do from the beginning is to believe them. One of the most significant factors in a survivor’s recovery is how those around them respond to their disclosure.
Remember, nothing a person does, or the decisions they make causes them to be sexually assaulted. Your loved one needs your love and support no matter the circumstances of the assault.
It is critical for victims that the people they talk to about the assault show that they believe them. Provide comfort and support. Listen without judging; try not to interrupt or ask a lot of questions. Let them make the decisions, and be supportive of those decisions. Without the victim’s permission, do not tell others what happened. Remind them that it was not their fault.
Let them know that whatever they did to prevent further harm was the right thing to do. Encourage them to talk about the assault (s) with an advocate, mental health professional or someone they trust. Remember that healing takes time; be patient and supportive for as long as it takes.
How friends and family can help a survivor:
- Listen to what they have to say about what happened, but in their own time.
- Be Supportive – ask what you can do to help. Do not assume you know what is best.
- Encourage them to contact MESA at 303.443.7300.
- Encourage them to get medical help. MESA can support them through a SANE (Sexual assault nurse exam) if that is what they decide to do.
- Offer them a safe place to stay or stay with them in their home.
- Recognize your own anger. It is not the survivor’s responsibility to address your anger.
- Remind them it was not their fault
- Be patient – and remind them to be patient with her/ himself.
- Accompany them to various appointments (doctors, police, lawyers, courts). MESA can also accompany them if you are unable to do so or as a support with you. 303.443.7300
- Encourage them to engage in self-soothing activities as a way to cope.
- Remind them that the assault is something that happened to them; it doesn’t define them as a person.
What to be careful of:
- Avoid taking control of the situation. Allow your loved one to have control over their own decisions.
- Not taking care of your needs. Your loved one is not in a position to take care of you.
- Avoiding the topic. It can be helpful for your loved one to repeat the story several times.
- Treating the survivor like they’re broken or damaged.
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